With less than eight weeks to go before a primary election involving contests for U.S. senator, Illinois governor and Cook County Board president, it might seem like an odd time for a news organization to fire its veteran political editor. But that's what happened Friday at Fox-owned WFLD-Channel 32.
In a move that caught most staffers by surprise, Jack Conaty, 63, was forced out after 22 years as chief political correspondent. Many of his Channel 32 co-workers learned the news when they read it on Phil Rosenthal's Chicago Tribune blog. By then, Conaty had taped his last "Fox Chicago Sunday" show and left the station for good.
Insiders said the timing of Conaty's departure was dictated by the expiration of his contract, which the station chose not to renew. It's not clear whether Channel 32 will designate a replacement in time for coverage of the Feb. 2 primary.‚ "We appreciate all of Jack's hard work and dedication during his time with Fox Chicago," his bosses said in a statement. It was Conaty's choice to exit without fanfare, simply telling viewers and co-host Dane Placko on his farewell broadcast:
"After many years, Fox Chicago News and I are parting ways. It's been my honor and privilege to spend some time with you on Sunday mornings. I will miss that. To all of you, all the best in the future and thank you."
If Conaty seemed to lack the hard-charging passion of a Mike Flannery, an Andy Shaw or a Walter Jacobson, he made up for it with an air of wry detachment and utter bemusement at the circus of politics. His professorial demeanor may have stemmed from the six years he taught English in New Haven, Conn., before turning to broadcast journalism. After on-air stints in Florida, New Jersey and Washington, D.C., he was among the original cadre of reporters who helped launch Channel 32's news operation in 1987.
"Jack may not be young and hip and glib, but [as an interviewer] he is so strong," said one admiring colleague. "His Chris Matthews way of burrowing into a guest can be done only by a reporter who knows what he's talking about.‚ And Jack always knows what he's talking about."
Elsewhere on the media beat:
- Poor Greg Jarrett. The guy has been in Chicago for five whole months as morning host on Tribune Co.-owned news/talk WGN-AM (720), and critics are still treating him like a newcomer. "They keep calling me an outsider," he complained to writer Ben Fong-Torres in San Francisco, where Jarrett spent 16 years on KGO-AM until he was laid off last January. "They've had four guys in this job since radio was invented, and they've never had a guy from out of town. I do think there's a bit of angst among these old-timers, these columnists, that a new guy is coming in and not failing." Not feeling the love, Greg?
- Make room for sob sister Glenn: Get ready for another shakeup this week in the lineup of syndicated programming on Salem Communications news/talk WIND-AM (560). With the addition of Glenn Beck from 9 to 11 a.m., Dennis Miller's show is expected to move to 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. More changes to follow.
- Burleigh Hines was fondly remembered Sunday as a beloved colleague and ace reporter. Friends gathered at WBBM-Channel 2 studios to share memories of the veteran newsman, who died Nov. 8 in Los Angeles. Hines had spent 33 years at the CBS-owned station and its all-news counterpart WBBM-AM (780) before retiring in 2001. He was 77.
- It's the second time around for John Cravens as vice president and general manager of sports/talk WMVP-AM (1000). Cravens, who held the job under prior ownership in the late '90s before heading Sporting News Radio here, has succeeded Jim Pastor, who was promoted to senior vice president for business divisions at parent company ESPN. Cravens, who most recently was director of sales at ESPN Radio 1000, was the odds-on favorite among insiders.
- Look for Sun-Times columnist Richard Roeper to turn up Tuesday on "The Jay Leno Show" on NBC. Roeper just launched his new movie reviews on richardroeper.com and soon will appear on Starz, the subscription movie channel.